Following a spirited discussion, the State Industrial Commission altered its rule governing travel expense reimbursement for injured workers seeking medical treatment.
The new rule allows injured workers to be paid 25 cents per mile or actual reasonable costs of practical transportation, above the 25 cents per mile, that may be required due to the nature of the disability.In proposing the new rule, Joyce Sewell, director of the commission's Industrial Accidents Division, said she has received complaints from injured workers that the old rule was arbitrary in that it allowed workers' compensation insurance carriers to pay the least expensive mode of travel when another mode was necessary.
But Richard Sumsion, an attorney for the Workers' Compensation Fund of Utah, said the new rule allows an injured worker to to be paid 25 cents per mile, take the bus and then pocket the difference.
He said the money the injured worker obtains is probably tied to the longer distance the person must travel to obtain medical treatment.
But Patrick J. O'Connor, president of the Injured Workers Association of Utah, said the new rule doesn't go far enough.
Rather than have workers' compensation insurance carriers pay for travel expenses for medical treatment, O'Connor wants injured workers to be reimbursed for travel in connection with rehabilitation; meetings with commission personnel, insurance adjusters or attorneys; to pick up a compensation check; meet with an employer; or pick up medical supplies or prescriptions.
O'Connor said when people come to his organization because they have a complaint about the workers' compensation system, he usually asks them if they are receiving travel expenses to receive medical treatment. Most of the people don't know they can be reimbursed for medical expenses.
The three commissioners believe the number of cases where people will make money off the travel reimbursement will be low.
Commissioner Thomas Carlson said if experience shows the rule should be changed, it is a relatively easy thing to do. "They aren't set in concrete," he said.